Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Is Gmail Bad For The Practice Of Law?

Gmail confidentiality issues When I speak to bar associations across the nation, one of the first questions I ask the audience when it comes to client communications is if they use Gmail for your client communications. Invariably, a number of hands go up. At that point, I always ask them if they have read the Gmail’s privacy policy and if they know that Google is scanning their emails?

Why Is All Of This Important For Attorneys?

Attorneys, like many other people find the free Gmail email service to be effective, easy to use and highly portable (you can access and use it anywhere). The fact that over 425 million people now use Gmail speaks to its success.  When Gmail was released back in 2004, it was a break-through technology by providing users with an email account that had literally limitless storage capacities – providing a unique value to users that they could have a huge archive of emails they would never have to delete. The benefit to Google by having all of this m
ass storage of emails was they would now scan the content of those emails to provide relevant advertising for each Gmail user – based on the content of each individual’s emails.

Why Your Gmail Communications Should Not Be Considered Private

With the scanning of email content for advertising, Google opened up a Pandora ’s Box of potential privacy problems. Arguments emerged that if Google could use such data to create increased advertising intelligence for Google, then what else could this data be used for and why? What if governments would subpoena your communications and courts would issue search warrants for your data and communications housed with Google? Think it couldn’t happen? Google has a whole section on their website and even has instructional videos on YouTube about how Google responds to search warrants. For those who still think using Gmail for client communications insures attorney-client privilege, I would highly suggest watching this video and reading Google’s privacy policy before coming to that conclusion.

Google Proactively Alerting Government Agencies

A recent article published in the UK telegraph brought new light to a technology now utilized by Google to scan for illegal images in Gmail accounts. The intent of the case cited in the article was to allow Google to better identify pedophiles by matching “hashed” (or known) images on Google that are also collected by child protection agencies and then notifying these agencies when a potential image match is made. In the case cited in the article, once the image match was recently made in Texas, child protection experts were notified by Google and a warrant was issued to gain access to the user’s information (Gmail) at Google. While most would argue that steps taken to better manage pedophile activities on Google are admirable, it leads to new more ominous questions and concerns about what else such technologies and activities could also be used for. More importantly, where will Google draw the line in the future when potentially illegal content is communicated and when authorities should be proactively notified by Google as to the results?

The Bottom Line & Alternatives

The bottom line for attorneys using Gmail for client communications is that legal protections for information saved and stored on your own computers is far different then information stored in other places – namely on Google’s Gmail servers. As we continue to see by the actions of Google in their improved scanning of your Gmail communications and now taking proactive steps to help “alert” government agencies of potentially unlawful content, one has to wonder just where privacy and confidentiality of communications is protected with Google. For attorneys, this should be particularly concerning but there are alternatives.

It is hard to argue that cloud based email such as Gmail is not useful but just as an attorney would not cross ethical boundaries with other forms of client information, equal care should be provided to their email communications as well. It is very easy for even the average internet user to go to website service providers such as and easily register a new URL and setup new email accounts for that website address at a nominal cost. Most even provide web-based email access similar to how you access your Gmail today allowing you to have the same web-based access you currently enjoy – just at a different location. 

In the end, your emails can be more secure and you will look more professional if your email address ends in your company’s website address instead of Think about it: what crosses your client’s minds when they still see attorneys with an email address? Well, similar perceptions may exist for your Gmail address as well…along with other potential confidentiality problems to boot. So make the change.

#lawyermarketing  #attorney  #lawyer 


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